May 22, 2024 8:42 pm

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Mukilteo to swear-in two new councilmembers, council may have violated free speech rights

MUKILTEO—Mukilteo City Council members-elect Donna Vago and Mike Dixon, along with incumbents Richard Emery and Jason Moon will be sworn-in at its first business meeting of the new year on Tuesday, January 2. The council will also vote to appoint council leadership—Council President and Vice President—and discuss committee assignments.

This meeting will be held both in-person and can watch the live streaming of Council Meetings at www.mukilteowa.gov, Facebook Live and is also available via Zoom.

Violation of Council Rules: Prohibition of oral virtual public comments

At its last meeting of 2023, the council voted unanimously restricting virtual public comments. Prior to the motion passing, Mukilteo Councilman Steve Schmalz clarified that starting at the current and future meetings that virtual attendees (those on Zoom) would only be able to submit public comments via email at elected@mukilteowa.gov. Also, the requestor must specify for their comment to be read.

During public comments, in-person members of the public expressed their dismay with the council’s decision. However, the Council acted within its authority per RCW 42.30.240. Ever since the October 7 terrorist attack against Israel by Hamas, a group of individuals have been exploiting public comment privileges within government meetings throughout Puget Sound spewing racist, homophobic, and antisemitic remarks.

A Lynnwood Times investigation uncovered that the Council may have violated its own policy when it expeditiously changed council rules restricting public comments.

According to RULE 9—MISCELLANEOUS Section B of the Council Rules of Procedure, “An amendment to these rules shall be made by resolution and shall require two readings.” The Council on December 18 immediately broke into an Executive Session upon the commencement if its meeting. After an 18-minute closed-door meeting, Mukilteo Council Vice President Louis Harris motioned to only allow written public comments in lieu of oral remote public comments.

There was no second reading as required by the approved Council Rules of Procedure. The Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC), a leading nonprofit organization that helps local governments across Washington State better serve their communities by providing legal and policy guidance on any topic, states that a second reading “provides both the legislative body and members of the public with notice of the topic under consideration” and “helps avoid haste in the body’s deliberations.”

However, second readings are not required by state law and is “a matter of local council practice or procedure.”

For failure to follow its rules, INTRODUCTION Section A of the approved Council Rules of Procedure indemnifies council members from liability.

“Failure of the City Council to adhere to these rules shall not result in any liability to the City, its officers, agents, and employees, nor shall failure to adhere to these rules result in invalidation of any Council act… Council action taken in disregard or non-conformity with these rules shall be construed as an implicit waiver thereof,” the policy reads.

According to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), the statutes governing the laws of Washington state, specifically RCW 42.30.240, the “governing body,” in this case the Mukilteo City Council, has authority over public comments “except in an emergency situation.”

An emergency item may be added to the agenda according to RULE 4—COUNCIL AGENDA Section D. However, this item must relate to “matters immediately affecting the public health, safety and welfare of the community, such as widespread civil disorder, disasters, and other severe emergencies.” The Executive Session was called under RCW 42.30.110.1(i), according to the City’s attorney, which relates to “litigation” or “potential litigation” against the city and/or council. The RCW states that hearsay of litigation is not considered potential litigation, it must be formally “threatened” or to be acted upon by or against a member of the council.

The council failed to discuss how the motion to suspend the rule constitutes an emergency, which would fall within its policy. In an emergency, according to state law, the mayor has the authority to change public comment rules without an approval of the council.

During the December 18 Business Meeting, Council Vice President Harris’ remarks about the motion for which there were no discussion, justified his motion in his preamble stating, “It has come to our attention that there is a troublesome trend of people, anonymous people, disrupting meetings and using the cover of the First Amendment to espouse certain things unrelated to city business and cities all over the region.”

The Lynnwood Times investigation found that the Mukilteo City Council failed to vote on suspending its rules regarding public comment in lieu of violating its own policies that now prohibits oral virtual public comment, without a specified time limit, making the action indefinite until the council acts, at some unknown future time, to update its public comment rules. The council’s policies violated were Rule 9 Section B requiring two readings prior to voting for a change to its rules and procedures and Rule 4 Section D in failing to add/state an emergency item to the agenda for which it took action.

DEI Commission Appointment and Reappointments

The Mukilteo City Council is expected to approve Mayor Marine’s recommendation to appoint Shahrooz Jahanbin to Position 2 for the remainder of the term expiring December 31, 2024, and to reappoint Zakia Bushra to Position 6 and James Yoo to Position 7 on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commission for three-year terms expiring December 31, 2026.

Parks and Arts Commission Reappointment

The Council is expected to approve Mayor Marine’s recommendation to reappoint Janet Hammerman to the Parks and Arts Commission for a three-year term ending January 1, 2027.

ClearGov Budget Software

The Mukilteo City Council is expected to authorize the Finance Director to sign a Service Order between the City of Mukilteo and ClearGov for a first-year budget software licensing subscription with a total not to exceed $33,387.50. The City Council approved the use of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) monies to fund the purchase of new financial software to replace the Eden software currently in use as it will no longer be supported by the vendor as of 2027. The financial system is comprised of three areas: Budget, Accounting and Human Resources, and Payroll.

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